VERNDALE — Veterans were honored with patriotic music, special readings and the attention of hundreds of students during the Veterans Day program at Verndale Public School on Thursday, Nov. 11.

Veterans stand to be honored during the playing of their branches song during the Verndale Veterans Day program.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Veterans stand to be honored during the playing of their branches song during the Verndale Veterans Day program. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Verndale Superintendent Paul Brownlow thanked all veterans for attending the event and gave a brief overview of the history of Veterans Day.

Catching the ears of elementary students in the school gymnasium, was veteran Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Anson, a Wadena resident. He described his time in the Navy including his opportunity to do a backflip off a helicopter as a helicopter rescue swimmer. Not something everyone can say they did.

Navy veteran Mark Anson presented the Veterans Day message at the Verndale Public School Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Navy veteran Mark Anson presented the Veterans Day message at the Verndale Public School Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

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Anson enlisted in the military as someone who wanted to serve his country. He served from 2010-2016, where he was part of a helicopter combat squadron and completed one eight-month deployment to the Persian Gulf.

While serving in that capacity was important, he described how military service requires sacrifice whether the veteran had to serve in combat or not.

“The act of service itself is being part of something bigger than yourself,” Anson said. He described being a part of the raising of the American flag every morning and night while on base. Everyone within earshot of the playing of “Colors” stopped in their tracks to watch the raising and lowering of the flag.

Anson shared that while he was pulled to serve in the military, it’s not for everyone. He asked the crowd of students present to stand if they had committed to serve. None stood.

“Military service isn’t for everybody,” Anson continued. “But service is for everybody. And if you haven't thought about how you can serve, where you can serve and in what capacity you can serve, I encourage you to do so. Service is a beautiful thing. It makes us better people and it makes us better citizens.”

Two Verndale students also read their Voice of Democracy essays, which spoke to the question, “America: Where do we go from here?”

Madison Schmitz (left) and Abigail Ervasti were recognized for their first and second place award winning essays for the Voice of Democracy contest.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Madison Schmitz (left) and Abigail Ervasti were recognized for their first and second place award winning essays for the Voice of Democracy contest. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

First place winner Madison Schmitz shared in her essay that we need to be honest with ourselves and each other. She suggested we not hide past failures from youth, instead we learn from them.

“Do not shelter our youth any longer; help them see the light at the end of a tunnel through all the dark our past may contain,” Schmitz said. “Prepare them to avoid the mistakes we have made and preach on the importance of teamwork and coming together despite the adversity and division that they may face.”

She said what the current generation can do is be better listeners.

“Take the time to listen to one another,” Schmitz said. “We all have our own beliefs and opinions, but attacking one another is only destroying our country and dividing us.”

Second place winner Abigail Ervasti walked the audience through some history from the beginning of the United States of America, through the Civil War.

What she drew from this tumultuous time period is that the country remains divided.

“We need to reach compromise and common ground with others that are different from us,” Ervasti said. “We have the most diverse population on the planet and we should celebrate that and use it to our advantage, not rebuke those are not like us personally.”

Ervasti, like Schmitz, agreed that we can learn from our past, not to let it haunt us, but to shape us.

Tyler Fiskum plays "Taps" to end the Veterans Day program in Verndale.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Tyler Fiskum plays "Taps" to end the Veterans Day program in Verndale. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Those attending heard songs from both the Verndale choir and band. During the playing of the different military branch songs, veterans were asked to stand and be recognized. Surrounded by students, the veterans were showered with claps and shown respect by the student body. The entrance to the school was also covered in messages thanking veterans for their service.